PART ONE: BIRTH OF AN ICON (1941-1949)
The legend that is Archie Comics began inauspiciously in 1939 with the birth of a new comic book company called MLJ Magazines, named after it's three partners and founders, Maurice Coyne ("M"), Louis Silberkleit ("L") and John Goldwater ("J"). The company's first title was called Blue Ribbon Comics, which was followed by Top Notch Comics and then, in January 1940, Pep Comics. Among MLJ's growing stable of superheroes was The Shield, said to be the comic book industry's first patriotic hero who battled the villainous Axis powers.
Comicdom's most famous, and fabulous rich girl, Veronica Lodge made her debut in Pep Comics #26 (April 1942), and life would never again be the same for poor Archie. In this story, Veronica had just moved to Riverdale and Archie somehow managed to get a date with her. When Jughead tells Arch that Veronica was a rich debutante, Arch, forever hard up for cash, lands a job at a swanky restaurant, which just so happens to be the same one he takes Veronica to, thus leading to the sort of chaos readers would come to expect for years to come from Archie.
Dubbed, "The Mirth of a Nation", the visibility of Archie grew, as did his popularity. Readers were demanding to see more of Archie and his friends, and the powers that be at MLJ readily satisfied those demands. The company increased Archie's presence in the still superhero prevalent Pep Comics, culminating with Archie's first appearance on the cover of Pep #36 in 1943. Then, in Pep #49, Archie got the lead story in that book over The Shield. By 1944, MLJ's superheroes were slowly starting to be phased out in favor of the ever increasingly popular Archie.
One of the emerging themes that made Archie so popular with his growing legion of fans was "The Eternal Love Triangle". Archie #7 (March 1944) heralded the beginning of the teenage menage a trois between Archie, Betty and Veronica. This story, in which Archie tries to keep a movie date with both girls at the same time on the same night at the same theater, would be the catalyst for thousands and thousands of stories over the decades as perpetually indecisive Archie had nothing but trouble trying to choose between sweet and lovable Betty or rich and spoiled Veronica.
Katy would quickly become a fixture in Wilbur and other Archie series comics until she got her own regular comic in 1949. By then, Bill had assembled quite a charming cast of characters to go along with Katy, chief among them: her rich and glamorous rival, Gloria Granbilt; pretty, but superstitous redhead Lucki Lorelei; K.O. Kelly, Katy's pugilistic boyfriend and Randy Von Ronson, a wealthy suitor of Katy and a rival of K.O. It was no secret that a goodly amount of servicemen were fans and readers of Katy.
What made Katy Keene so immensely popular with fans was that readers were encouraged to send in fashion designs for Katy and her friends. Not just fashions, but designs for houses, cars, boats, just about anything, with recognition given when their designs were shown in the book. And, when it came to fashions for Katy, Gloria and Lucki, it wasn't just girls who submitted designs -- boys and grown men of all ages submitted fashions as well! Katy would enjoy enormous success, second only to Archie himself until her book was cancelled in 1961.
In 1946, a dramatic turning point was reached as MLJ Magazines adopted the name of what had now become it's flagship character and officially became Archie Comics Publications. The change coincided with the new editorial direction which focused mainly on the humorous exploits of Archie Andrews and his friends and less on superheroes. In the fall of that year, Archie Comics released Laugh Comics which, like Pep, would feature Archie and other humorous characters. Then, just before the decade ended, yet another title was added: Archie's Pal Jughead.
PART TWO: THE EXPANDING EMPIRE (1950-1970)
As the 40's yielded to the 50's, the appeal of Archie only grew in strength, as did the entire genre of teenage humor comics which literally sprung up overnight. Virtually every other comic book company, seeing what was happening with Archie put out similar books, trying to capitalize on the Archie mystique, but no one did even a fraction as well as Archie did. Most of those companies either folded or returned to producing superhero books. Archie's formula for success was to remain contemporary with the times in terms of fashions, slang and the fads and pastimes of the day.
In addition to the jumbo sized yearly editions of Archie, Jughead and Betty and Veronica, the company's first regular giant book was Archie's Pals 'N' Gals. Every issue of Pals 'N' Gals topped out at a whopping 64 pages (as did the other jumbo books), easily making it the largest comic book of its day that was published more than yearly. Along with great stories by the company's top talents, Pals 'N' Gals also featured, as an enticing treat for fans, Betty and Veronica pin-ups and fashion pages, something which would become a staple in the book well into the early 70's.
Since most of Archie's adventures took place at Riverdale High, it spawned a faculty that more than held their own in the humor department: Mr. Weatherbee, the pompous, overweight windbag of a principal for whom Archie would be his personal bane; Miss Grundy, the tough but tender spinster of a teacher; Coach Kleats who coached EVERY varsity sport at school; Professor Flutesnoot, the science teacher who took his life in his hands whenever he let trouble prone Archie mix chemicals in the lab, and Miss Beazley, the grouchy chef of the school's cafeteria. One reason for the popularity of Archie was how the people who ran the company cashed in on the trends and fads of the day, and during the 60's, they made hay on two such sensations of the day: spies and superheroes. During the mid 60's, when the Cold War was at it's height, one of the most popular TV series on the air was The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Archie tapped into this media phenomenon with a successful parody of spy stories with Archie as the Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. as he and his fellow agents battled the evil minions of C.R.U.S.H.
Beyond the world of comic books, Archie was making inroads in other mainstream media. A popular radio show back in the 40's, ran for nearly a decade. But as the 60's rolled around, Archie's popularity would skyrocket, thanks to television. In 1968, Filmation produced an Archie cartoon show that would go on to be one of the most popular Saturday morning animated series of all times, garnering, at it's zenith, an astonishing seventy-five percent of the Neilsen audience. The show ran in several different formats until 1976.
But television would not be the only success for Archie as he and the gang became recording stars, of a sort. In 1968, thanks to studio musicians, The Archies made their debut on record stands with such hip and fun songs as "Archie's Theme", "Truck Driver" and "Bang-Shang-A-Lang", as sung by lead vocalist Ron Dante. But the ultimate success of The Archies came in 1969 when "Sugar Sugar" hit number one on the Billboard charts, becoming one of THE most popular songs of all time. Even to this day, you can hear "Sugar Sugar" on Oldies stations from coast to coast!
The people at Archie headquarters saw what was happening and capitalized on the popularity of their characters on television and on the record charts by putting out two new books which would be direct tie-in's with same: Everything's Archie which, early on would focus mostly on stories featuring The Archies band (One story had them auditioning for Don Kirschner who produced the albums) and Archie's TV Laugh-Out where Archie would share center stage with Sabrina, at least until the teen witch graduated to her own regular comic a brief time later.
PART THREE: WILD TIMES IN RIVERDALE (1971-1990)
When the 70's began, Archie Comics was at their peak, producing some 18 regular titles, the line-up swelling to include Betty and Me (Betty's first solo title, which became Betty in 1992), Archie At Riverdale High (stories about the gang at school), Reggie and Me (a spin-off of the original Reggie title from the 50's) and separate joke books starring Reggie and Jughead. Add in a dozen or so giant sized books (Betty and Veronica had four alone!), and three books expanded to giant size (Archie and Me, Betty and Me & Reggie and Me) kept the company pretty busy!
The expansion would also extend into rather small areas as well with the debut of the Archie digests. Going as far back as the 30's, digests were very popular with the reading public, so, Archie created the digest series which would feature reprinted stories from the 50's and 60's. This was a unique concept as it would allow Archie fans to read both new stories as well as stories from decades past without having to spend huge sums of money on the original books. The digests became extremely popular with readers and remain so to this very day, what with some 15 different titles being published.
But, the 70's would end with the first major elimination of titles by Archie. As with publishers like Marvel and DC, comic book sales in the latter half of the decade horribly sagged, and the only way to stem the tide was to jettison unproductive books. At Archie, the ax fell on Reggie and Me, Reggie's Wise Guy Jokes and Jughead's Jokes. The subtraction would continue well into the 80's with the demise of such titles as Archie and Me, Archie at Riverdale High, Archie's JokeBook, Archie's TV Laugh-Out, Josie, Laugh, Sabrina and, ironically, Pep where Archie got his start in 1941.
To balance things out, the late 70's would also see the much heralded return to comics of Katy Keene. Despite being away for over fifteen years, Katy had not vanished from the public eye. In 1978, a Katy revival began when Marilise Flusser, a fashion coordinator for Saks Fifth Avenue enlarged Katy Keene covers for window display backgrounds for Saks fashions and the response was good. This led to renewed interest in Katy and, in 1979, Craig Leavitt a California native launched a Katy Keene newsletter.
Portrayed as an international jetsetter who was just as rich as Veronica, (if not more so), nowhere near as coy or demure as Betty while displaying a talent for deviousness that would put Reggie himself to shame, Cheryl, along with her smarmy twin brother Jason, looked upon the population of Riverdale as beneath her notice, calling its residents "townies". Cheryl sought to make life miserable for them. Except for Archie, whom Cheryl was absolutely crazy about, much to the outrage of Betty and Veronica, because his red hair turned her on.
After only two years of entertaining stories that dealt with Cheryl and Jason causing trouble for the Riverdale High crowd, not to mention Cheryl's dogged pursuit of Archie, the Blossoms suddenly vanished from Archie series comics without a trace. While no official explanation was ever given for their disappearance (A regular practice at Archie when characters outlive their usefulness).
The 80's would continue to see new things emerge from Archie Comics, most notably, one the more memorable, though short lived titles the company ever produced: Betty's Diary. The original concept of Betty's Diary began in the pages of Archie's JokeBook with the hopelessly lovesick Betty relating rather exaggerated, and humorous tales of her exploits with Archie in her diary. In this version which debuted in 1986, stories, told with first person narrative by Betty herself, would focus on the day to day events in her life as she truthfully related them in her diary.
The late 80's to early 90's would see a tremendous amount of turbulent times for Archie Comics. Turbulent in ways that would have lasting effects on Archie fans to this very day. As the last decade of the 20th Century began, more titles were being purged, in addition to Betty's Diary, Archie's Pals 'N' Gals, Everything's Archie, Katy Keene, Life With Archie and The New Archies were cancelled, and the titles that took their place wildly varied in terms of editorial bent.
These new books would more or less take place outside the normal, everyday realm that had come to be known as the Archie Universe, and, in some cases, WAY beyond that particular realm. Archie 3000 featured the gang in the 31st century, in Archie's R/C Racers, the gang, on separate teams, would race radio controlled cars, sponsored by competing companies, across the country. Next came Archie's Explorers of the Unknown where Archie and company were troubleshooting adventurers in a hilarious tribute to DC's Challengers of the Unknown.
Dilton's Strange Science saw the diminutive genius in science fiction based stories like time travel, alien invaders and what not. Faculty Funnies, had Mr. Weatherbee, Miss Grundy, Professor Flutesnoot and Coach Kleats as hapless superheroes. Jughead's Time Police, had Jughead as a guardian of time with Archie's 30th century descendant as his partner. Veronica was depicted in her first ever solo title featuring stories set in foreign locales. Jughead's Diner rounded out the lot.
While these books were innovative and imaginative, they were not well received by Archie fans. At one point, the editor for this new line of books practically begged for letters from readers! However, his pleas fell on deaf ears as those books all fell victim to the ax, most of them never lasted more than five or six issues, R/C Racers ran for ten, and Archie 3000 stretched to sixteen. By July of 1991, the only title that survived this third major purge was Veronica.
PART FOUR: REUNIONS, ROMANCE AND REDHEADS (1990-1995)
The 90's began with Archie's last foray on to television. In April of 1990, DIC produced a live action movie for NBC that would see Archie and the gang like they had never been seen before: AS ADULTS! In "Archie: To Riverdale And Back Again" (Now out on video as "Archie: Return To Riverdale"), Archie and company were thirtysomething adults, fifteen years removed from their graduation from Riverdale High, coming home for a reunion. The concept of this movie was to combine the long-standing familiarity of Archie with decidedly adult issues.
Archie Comics helped advance the Sonic bandwagon when the company published an 8 page Sonic sample issue. Written by Michael Gallagher and drawn by Scott Shaw, this book was a free gift from Sega and was originally based on the syndicated cartoon series. In August, a regular Sonic comic was launched which is still going strong today. Meanwhile, a new Sonic cartoon series debuted in September on ABC, displaying an action/adventure angle, the comic would soon follow the show's lead with stories based on the series.
In the years that followed, Archie Comics would engage in a series of crossovers where a major storyline would crossover into two or more books, i.e. The Prom Tale which saw Archie, Betty and Veronica in a serious tussle leading up to the prom, and House Of Riverdale where Archie and the gang found themselves caught up in one monster of a ghost story. But, the single biggest crossover epic Archie Comics has ever done is the now legendary Love Showdown. The premise of this crossover was dirt simple: the end of the Eternal Triangle.
The madness began in Archie #429 (November 1994) when a lovesick Archie received a letter from a girl from his past who was returning to Riverdale. That alone got fans from coast to coast wondering just who the mystery woman could be. Betty and Veronica got wind of the letter, but had no idea who the girl was as Archie refused to divulge her identity. The girls severed their friendship, after being conned by Reggie, who told Betty that Veronica wrote the letter to Archie, and vice versa. Each vowed to win Archie over once and for all! The first skirmish was in Betty #19 (November 1994) as Mr. Cooper gives Betty tickets to the Lodge Foundation Summer Charity Dance. When Betty calls Archie to be her date, he explains that he was having problems with his car. Betty arranges to help repair his car if he'll be her escort to the dance. After Betty repairs Archie's car, Veronica winds up with Archie after the heiress tells Betty the tickets were for a different date. Later, Betty learns from Jughead that Veronica printed the tickets Mr. Cooper gave her. Furious at being duped, Betty vows to crash the dance!
The action continues in Betty and Veronica #82 (December 1994). Veronica is enjoying herself with Archie during a party at her house when Betty struts in wearing one of Veronica's hand-me-down dresses which she altered to show off plenty of leg and reel in plenty of attention from every boy there, including Archie. When Veronica tries to get the spotlight back, she winds up embarrassing herself. With Betty having outfoxed her in the vamp department, Veronica resorts to cooking to win Archie back, only to fail again. Despondent, she turns to Reggie for help.
The concluding chapter in Veronica #39 (December 1994) begins with Veronica having regained her nasty edge thanks to Reggie's tutelage, and she wastes no time using it to lure Archie away from Betty. Outraged, Betty proposes a final battle for Archie: super soakers at high noon at Pickens Park in their fanciest outfits. The showdown in the park ends with Archie and the mystery girl getting soaked by Betty and Veronica----Cheryl Blossom! Then, to add insult to injury, Archie, angry at the girls' childish behavior, decides to date Cheryl instead!
The return of Cheryl Blossom to the Archie Universe was a shocker to Archie fans worldwide as she was perhaps the LAST person Archie fans ever expected to see again. Normally, when a character is eliminated from the Archie cast, and many have been over the decades, more often than not, he or she never comes back. One prevalent theory regarding Cheryl's return was that a foil was needed to keep Archie from choosing between Betty and Veronica as part of the Love Showdown plot, to which end, Cheryl was rescued from oblivion by the editors to serve that purpose.
However, what the editors didn't foresee was the tremendous popularity Cheryl gained with Archie fans since her return. Throughout 1995, Cheryl made guest appearances in virtually every Archie series comic, picking up where she left off in 1982: chasing after Archie and tormenting Betty and Veronica. That led to four 48 page specials Cheryl starred in, containing new stories and reprints, followed in late 1995 and most of 1996 by a trio of entertaining three issue mini-series which would see Jason's return and the first ever appearance of Cheryl's parents. With fans clamoring for more, their demands were met in early 1997 with the debut of a regular Cheryl Blossom comic. The tone of the comic had been set during the last mini-series where Cheryl went to great lengths to have a movie she made shown at an international film festival. This would lead to the running theme in Cheryl's new book of her neverending quest to be a celebrity, helped along when she and Jason inherited an inn from a deceased aunt and transformed it into a posh resort called Club Blossom which Cheryl uses to entertain the rich and famous.
PART FIVE: MAGIC ON THE TV AND INTERNETT
As it turned out, Cheryl Blossom wasn't the only character rescued from limbo to enjoy newfound popularity with a brand new generation of Archie fans.
At 8 PM, on April 7th, 1996, Easter Sunday, the Showtime cable channel premiered a prime-time made for TV movie aimed at kids. The movie was "Sabrina the Teenage Witch". Based almost entirely on the comic book series, the Sabrina movie featured in the starring role, Melissa Joan Hart, best known for fronting the hip and popular Nickelodeon series from the early 90's, "Clarissa Explains It All".
The premise of the movie centered around Sabrina, sent to live with her aunts Hilda and Zelda in a new town, gaining magical powers on the eve of her sixteenth birthday and her struggle to fit in with her peers while adjusting to being a witch. Sabrina is helped along the way by Hilda and Zelda who were portrayed as attractive but extremely quirky women and her familiar, Salem, a sleek black cat who just so happens to talk. The movie clicked on all levels, casting, acting and, of course the special effects. But the movie would only be the beginning of the Sabrina saga.
In May when ABC released its fall schedule, Sabrina was one of the new shows on the docket, joining the network's popular "TGIF" Friday night kiddie sitcom line-up, sandwiched between the long running "Family Matters" and a small screen version of the hit movie "Clueless". The plot of the original 90 minute Showtime movie had been effectively condensed into a half hour premiere as Sabrina Spellman, sent to live with her nutty aunts by her warlock father (divorced from her mortal mother) gained magical powers on her sixteenth birthday.
Thanks to the enchanting presence of Melissa, Sabrina was given a wonderfully spunky and sassy personality, something the character never had in the comics as Sabrina was portrayed as a typically awkward teenager who just so happened to be a witch. Filled with delightfully off-beat humor and guest stars galore such as Penn and Teller, Robby Benson (Sabrina's dad), Brian Austin Green, Randy Travis, Kathy Ireland, Coolio and Raquel Welch, just to name a few, Sabrina attracted quite a following in her maiden season and became a sleeper hit.
Meanwhile, at Archie Headquarters, the editors, seeing how much of a success Sabrina had become produced a one-shot special in the latter half of 1996 with a cover featuring Sabrina, as drawn by longtime artist Dan DeCarlo, next to a photo Melissa as the live action version. This entertaining book length story recounted Sabrina's origin straight from the two TV pilots, but with one twist, as Sabrina used her magic to transform Hilda and Zelda from the crones they had always been in the comics into the modern looking versions as seen on TV.
Archie Comics created a series of public service announcements, such as for abstinence from smoking, missing children and AIDS education, to name just a few, that have run in their comics.
The relationship of Archie and the military has been a long and fruitful one. When servicemen stationed overseas would spend their idle hours reading comic books sent to them from loved ones back home, Archie seemed to be at the top of every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine's list. From World War Two to Operation Desert Storm (Aside: an Archie series comic from spring 1991 dealt with the return of hometown servicemen and women to Riverdale from Iraq in an excellent book length story), this relationship has not changed.
During the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, Archie and the gang have brightened the grim existence of American troops stationed in that war torn country. Acting on a request from Supply Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez of the HHC 16th Engr. Battalion, Michael Silberkleit, chairman and co-publisher of Archie Comics, arranged to have more than five hundred assorted Archie comics sent to Sgt. Rodriguez to disperse to the troops. Reading the timeless, fun filled adventures of Archie and company was a warm and pleasant reminder of home to the men and women serving abroad.
In September 1997, Archie and company invaded cyberspace with the celebrated launch of Archie Comics Online. An exciting, fun-filled website devoted not just to Archie and his friends, but to Cheryl Blossom, Sabrina, Josie and the Pussycats, Katy Keene and Sonic the Hedgehog, ACO presents daily comic strips, games, puzzles, contests, fan art, trivia, monthly columns by your favorite characters and classic comic stories to entertain both the young and the young-at-heart.
PART SIX: ARCHIE IN THE 21st CENTURY
As Archie Comics entered the new millennium, there was an all-too considerable paradigm shift from comics to both the small screen and the big screen, plus real life, cementing Archie's place as not just a comic book company, but as a full blown entertainment empire.
In 2001, characters from the pages of Archie Comics made their first ever foray onto the silver screen with the live action version of Josie and the Pussycats. Starring Rachael Leigh Cook (Josie), Rosario Dawson (Valerie) and Tara Reid (Melody), the plot of the movie had the girls as a typical, small town garage band struggling to make ends meet while playing the music they love. But when the girls are "discovered" by an over-the-top and not all there record company CEO (Parker Posey) and her humorously wicked band manager/henchman (Alan Cumming), the girls have seemingly made the big time, that is until they learn that they're pawns in a government sponsored scheme to subliminally control the spending habits of the nation's teenagers through the girls' chart-topping CD.
Meanwhile, back in the four-color world, the latest (and still ongoing) rage in entertainment was the explosion of Japanese anime (animation) and manga (comic books) in America, especially manga which literally flew off the shelves in mainstream bookstores like B.Dalton and Waldenbooks. Archie decided to get on the bandwagon by hiring Tania Del Rio, an award winning manga-style artist from a new talent contest sponsored by Tokyopop, one of the country's leading importers of Japanese manga to transform Sabrina the Teenage Witch into a hip and modern manga series. While Marvel Comics was first to interpret their stable of superheroes in manga style, Archie led the way in doing that on a regular basis, and, as a result, Sabrina was given new life and new popularity.
Meanwhile, Archie's comic book roots haven't been forgotten. Another explosion in the comic book world has been graphic novels. While DC and Marvel have led the way in this arena for years, Archie hasn't been far behind, producing such diverse and entertaining entries such as the Archie Americana series from the 50's through the 80's, Betty and Veronica Summer Fun, Josie and the Pussycats, Archie classic Christmas stories, Sonic the Hedgehog, the legendary Love Showdown collection, Little Archie and the best of the Archie superhero stable such as The Fly, The Shield and The Mighty Crusaders. With such a diverse collection of graphic novels, there's something for everyone to enjoy. And who knows what might yet be on the horizon for great stuff to read?
And would you believe there's still more? Like a worldwide cellphone deal for wallpapers and text messaging backgrounds, and a possible video game deal for 2006. Then there's the next live action movie project, this one starring Betty and Veronica. Even after over sixty years, Archie and his friends remain a key part of American pop folklore. Despite the rampant changes that have occurred in the comic book industry, Archie remains a pleasant and refreshing constant amidst all of the chaos and turmoil. It's very good to know that Archie and his gang will be around to entertain young and old alike, well into the new millennium. The times, fads and fashions may change, but the down home values that make Archie great never will. When all is said and done, it's quite true that----EVERYTHING'S ARCHIE!